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Exclusive: Former Texas CPS employees say nearly 70 'children without placement' are being housed in motel rooms paid for by state

The Department of Family and Protective Services estimates it needs $45M over 2 years to improve the situation -- but bills to fund those needs aren't being pursued.

DALLAS — In an exclusive sit-down with WFAA, three recently retired employees of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' Child Protective Services (CPS) arm said the agency's operations are a mess -- and have been for decades. 

Employees who once loved their careers have become burned out from low pay, high caseload expectations and emotional stresses that can last a lifetime. 

"We have not given these children the opportunity to be able to even think there's possibilities outside of what they're living in right now," said Sherryl Becker, worked grew from a CPS caseworker and to a program administrator over the course of her 39-year career with the agency. "And that's unacceptable. Absolutely, just unacceptable."

Becker and two former colleagues, Christie Carrington and Sherryl Guthrie-Kimble, said there is a special class of children whose circumstances especially keep the caseworkers up at night -- the nearly 70 children, mainly teenagers, in the system that the State of Texas has labeled "children without placement."  

"If we don't care for these children now, we will suffer the effects of it later," said Carrington, who worked for the agency more than 10 years.

It’s a group of kids who have no parents, no foster family and no facility that will take them because their behavioral issues are too severe. Their day-and-night care, these former CPS workers said, falls to CPS employees -- and not necessarily experienced caseworkers. 

These women said that, along with overworked caseworkers, it might be an office clerk, or a driver who transports children, who are tasked with looking after these children.

"It is a broken system, and I could not stomach any more of it," said Guthrie-Kimble, who worked for CPS for about 30 years and retired as a program director.

A year and a half ago, these same children who could not be placed in foster care were sleeping in CPS offices. More recently, they've been placed in motel rooms paid for by the state. 

"I'm concerned that the community is not fully aware of what happens with these youth when they're in motels or when they're on the streets," said Becker.

It's a tough situation for the children and the CPS staff alike, these former employees said.

"They would set off the alarm in the rooms," Becker said. They would throw food, they would break furniture. They would go downstairs in the lobby and, you know, create confusion in the lobby."

"Staff were crying all of the time," Guthrie-Kimble said. "They're there. Their items, personal items were getting stolen. Their cars will get broken into. And for most of the time, they never felt safe. And, as their program director, I was not sure now how to keep them safe."

"We've had children with actual diagnosed mental health issues, so we've had children 12 years old having psychotic breaks, y'know, because of everything that has happened to them," said Carrington.

Motels -- businesses with other paying customers -- just isn’t where you should care for a traumatized child, the employees said.

Said Carrington: "So, you're in a motel and your child is in the lobby having a total meltdown, and [motel owners] say to themselves, 'Is it unsafe to have anybody around them?' Well, as a motel owner, you're going to say [to the CPS workers and the children], 'Please leave.'"

The former employees said the workers are asked to care for these "children without placement" outside of their already full-time responsibilities.

"[The workers] are falling asleep while they're supposed to be watching these children," Guthrie-Kimble said. "Why? Because they just got off from work from 8 to 5, and now they're at a motel at 6 p.m., and they're expected to be awake, alert and watching these children."

According to CPS, anyone caring for children does get training -- but these long-time case workers say that training is not nearly enough for scenarios that include being spit upon and sometimes even being assaulted. 

Each of the three employees WFAA spoke with admitted to having more than one breakdown moment while dealing with these "children without placement."

"All the time," Becker said. "All the time. Absolutely. Crying to my staff, crying to my program director: 'Oh my God, y'all. I'm so sorry. I'm helpless. I don't know what to do to help you. I'll cover your shift, I'll buy the groceries. I'll do whatever you need. Just tell me what you need.'"

In a statement to WFAA, CPS said that "reducing the number of children and young people without placement remains a top priority for us."

But the former employees who spoke with WFAA said the issue isn't being addressed by the state.

"We've been begging and pleading for help!" said Becker.

All three women believe it is time for the legislature fund a brand new facility -- or perhaps even multiple facilities -- and to hire appropriately trained staff to handle children who the world has labeled as "damaged."

The Department of Family and Protective Services has estimated that it would cost $45 million over two years to improve the "children without placement" situation -- and they have requested that funding.

"It's a failed mandate," said Carrington. "Our job is to protect the unprotected, and we're not doing it."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan all have influence over what bills make it to the floor this legislative session. So far, the state's foster care system has not been earmarked as a priority issue by any of them.

WFAA's partners at the Texas Tribune have an easily navigable online elected officials directory where you can enter your address to find your elected officials and how to contact them.

88th Legislature's regular session began January 10 and ends on May 29.

"I want [legislators] to hear that these children are not disposable," Becker said through tears. "These are our responsibilities, to take care of these children. These children have come from horrible environments."

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